Federal courts delivered two victories for transgender Americans Friday, one regarding restroom access, one on birth certificates.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld a lower court’s ruling that a Florida school district was wrong to deny trans male student Drew Adams (pictured above) access to the boys’ restroom.
“A public school may not punish its students for gender nonconformity,” Judge Beverly Martin wrote in the Eleventh Circuit’s ruling in Adams v. School Board of St. John’s County. “Neither may a public school harm transgender students by establishing arbitrary, separate rules for their restroom use. The evidence at trial confirms that Mr. Adams suffered both these indignities. The record developed in the District Court shows that the School Board failed to honor Mr. Adams’s rights under the Fourteenth Amendment and Title IX.”
The ruling cited the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, which found that sex discrimination in the workplace, banned under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, includes discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Eleventh Circuit arrived at the same reading of Title IX of the Education of 1972, which bans sex discrimination in education.
“Bostock confirmed that workplace discrimination against transgender people is contrary to law,” Martin wrote. “Neither should this discrimination be tolerated in schools.”
Adams, now 19 and a student at the University of Central Florida, filed the suit in 2017 while attending Allen D. Nease High School in Ponte Vedra, Fla. A U.S. district court ruled in his favor in 2018. The case was the first involving trans students' restroom access to go to trial in the nation; there have been rulings in other cases, but those have come in the form of summary judgments or other procedures that allow for a ruling without a trial.
“I am very happy to see justice prevail, after spending almost my entire high school career fighting for equal treatment,” Adams said in a press release from Lambda Legal, which represented him. “High school is hard enough without having your school separate you from your peers and mark you as inferior. I hope this decision helps save other transgender students from having to go through that painful and humiliating experience.”
“Today, the court sent a clear message that schools must treat transgender students with the same dignity and respect as any other student,” said Tara Borelli, counsel at Lambda Legal. “The trial court was correct when it ruled that the law requires that Drew Adams be treated like every other boy and be allowed to use the boys’ restroom. We are glad the court saw the school board’s policy as unjust and discriminatory, and affirmed the inherent dignity of transgender students.”
Also today, the U.S. District Court for Idaho quashed that state’s attempt to revive a policy barring trans residents from changing the gender marker on their birth certificates. The same court had ordered the state in 2018 to end its practice of automatically rejecting applications for such changes, but this year the state legislature defied the order by passing a bill banning these modifications in most cases, and Gov. Brad Little signed it into law. Two trans people, represented by Lambda Legal, quickly sued.
The law “forecloses any avenue for a transgender individual to successfully challenge the sex listed on their Idaho birth certificate to reflect their gender identity,” Judge Candy Dale wrote, and therefore it violates the 2018 court order. The court had already warned Idaho officials against enforcing the law, but they proceeded to do so when it went into effect July 1.
“It is astonishing that the Idaho legislature and Gov. Little plowed forward with resuscitating this dangerous and archaic ban in direct defiance of multiple court orders that repeatedly ordered the government to stop discriminating against transgender people and placing them in harm’s way,” said Nora Huppert, a Renberg Fellow and attorney with Lambda Legal, in a press release. “The court could not have been clearer: What was discriminatory in 2018 remains discriminatory today. Idaho officials may not block transgender people from obtaining identity documents that reflect who they are. This law seeks to deny the very existence of transgender people by stripping them of their identity.”